This Is What the Brand Newsroom of the Future Looks Like

In our latest edition of Contently Labs, we answer a question we hear a lot from current or prospective brand publishers: How do I build a newsroom built to succeed for years to come?

Twenty months ago, the lights went out in the Superdome in New Orleans. As stadium crews scrambled to restore power and TV studio crews struggled for talking points, one brand shone bright. You’ve probably heard this story before—Oreo’s impromptu “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” tweet has become a part of real-time marketing lore.

Marketers worldwide wondered how the cookie brand had managed to create a piece of content to tweet in mere minutes; some even joked that they’d cut the power themselves. Over the next few days, the secret was revealed in the marketing trades: Oreo had actually been practicing for this moment for months. For 100 days during the previous summer and fall, Oreo’s team had created a new piece of social content every day as part of their “Daily Twist” campaign. By the time the Super Bowl came around, Oreo and their digital agency, 360i, were used to creating content on the fly and getting it approved swiftly.

Ever since, you can’t throw a stone at a marketing conference without hitting someone talking about brand newsrooms. Brands are becoming filled with grand visions of this marketing evolution, and it’s not uncommon to hear of brands outfitting a command room with 15 high-tech monitors before they’ve hired a single writer.

But what does this brand newsroom of the future—this entity that will transform brands from the sloths of the content world to jet-packed cheetahs shooting to the head of the media pack—actually look like?

If brands want to figure this out, a good start would be to listen to Jonah Peretti.

No company has a more sophisticated understanding of the way content spreads through the social web right now than BuzzFeed, led by Peretti. Heck, The New York Times enviously admitted as much in their leaked internal report earlier this summer. And that approach is what makes BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed. “Our approach was never to do one specific thing,” Peretti told The Drum in an video interview this summer. “The focus of our company is to really understand in a deep way the social web and how it’s changing and how it’s evolving, and then to make media for the way people consume it today, which is Facebook and Twitter and WhatsApp and Line and Pinterest and all these different platforms.”

When Peretti says “today,” he literally means today; the rapid evolution of the social web means that the way content spreads is changing on a daily basis. By constantly testing, data-crunching, and analyzing content performance, BuzzFeed is able to see trends before anyone else, creating and seeding content in a way that maximizes its chance of spreading through the social web like a spider on crystal meth.

Peretti calls this his “learning machine.”

“The space is so dynamic that we need to build, essentially, a learning machine where we’re constantly trying out different ideas and learning how to make things that work for the way the constantly changing media landscape is shifting,” he continued, standing atop a platform surrounded by yachts, a fitting metaphor for the way BuzzFeed is charting a new course in digital media.

BuzzFeed and its custom content team have become a great asset for brands, creating content in partnership with companies like Purina, Virgin, and others. But they’re also brand publishers’ competitors. That’s because brands are fighting for attention in the same media landscape as BuzzFeed, and if they want to compete, they need to build learning machines of their own.

That may sound like a daunting task, but the best way to imagine a learning machine is by picturing one of the simplest machines in history: the flywheel.

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The content marketing flywheel is the brainchild of Contently CCO Shane Snow, and though it looks like a kids’ toy, it’s incredibly effective. For a newsroom—brand or otherwise—to work well in 2014, it needs to be creating content; engaging audiences by seeding content through social, email, and paid distribution; and, finally, optimizing by examining the available data and figuring out what content to create next—and where to seed it. Constantly testing, learning, and iterating is the best way to accomplish brand publishers’ ultimate goal of building lasting relationships with consumers.

As simple as the flywheel looks, there’s no magical bullet for making a brand newsroom effective. It requires brands to adopt the right philosophy and bust their butts everyday.

Every brand will have unique needs, but building a brand newsroom requires understanding what goes into that, and filling those roles accordingly through a combination of people and technology. Below you’ll find a view of the core components that go into it:

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Data is the nucleus of the brand publishing flywheel, the power source that drives the machine. Then you need the right combination of people and technology to quickly and efficiently accomplish each task within each step. That means a team of great storytellers to create fantastic content, and the software to manage all of them. You need a witty and potent social team to seed social content, and you need the tools to help you do it fast. You need analytics platforms that help you measure relationships, and bright data analysts to isolate the metrics and insights that matter. And in each step, you need the guts to try new things and discover what works best.

Just look at BuzzFeed. The data might have indicated that quizzes would be the content format to catch fire on the social web in 2014, but BuzzFeed also needed to take a leap and try it out.

“You need to think about how people are engaging with media,” said Peretti, “and then make your advertising and marketing match those behaviors.”

The brand newsroom of the future is one that does just that.


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